The Cruise of the Coracle
IT was broad day when I awoke and found myself tossing
at the south-west end of Treasure Island. The sun was up
but was still hid from me behind the great bulk of the
which on this side descended almost to the sea in formidable
Haulbowline Head and Mizzen-mast Hill were at my elbow,
the hill bare and dark, the head bound with cliffs forty
or fifty feet high and fringed with great masses of fallen
I was scarce a quarter of a mile to seaward, and it was
thought to paddle in and land.
That notion was soon given over. Among the fallen rocks
the breakers spouted and bellowed; loud reverberations,
heavy sprays flying and falling, succeeded one another
from second to second; and I saw myself, if I ventured
dashed to death upon the rough shore or spending my strength
in vain to scale the beetling crags.
Nor was that all, for crawling together on flat tables
or letting themselves drop into the sea with loud reports
I beheld huge slimy monsters--soft snails, as it were,
of incredible bigness--two or three score of them together,
making the rocks to echo with their barkings.
I have understood since that they were sea lions, and entirely
harmless. But the look of them, added to the difficulty
of the shore
and the high running of the surf, was more than enough
to disgust me of that landing-place. I felt willing rather
to starve at sea than to confront such perils.
In the meantime I had a better chance, as I supposed, before
North of Haulbowline Head, the land runs in a long way,
leaving at low tide a long stretch of yellow sand. To the
of that, again, there comes another cape--Cape of the Woods,
as it was marked upon the chart--buried in tall green pines,
which descended to the margin of the sea.
I remembered what Silver had said about the current that
northward along the whole west coast of Treasure Island,
and seeing from my position that I was already under its
I preferred to leave Haulbowline Head behind me and reserve
my strength for an attempt to land upon the kindlier-looking
Cape of the Woods.
There was a great, smooth swell upon the sea. The wind
steady and gentle from the south, there was no contrariety
between that and the current, and the billows rose and
Had it been otherwise, I must long ago have perished; but
as it was,
it is surprising how easily and securely my little and
could ride. Often, as I still lay at the bottom and kept
than an eye above the gunwale, I would see a big blue summit
heaving close above me; yet the coracle would but bounce
dance as if on springs, and subside on the other side into
as lightly as a bird.
I began after a little to grow very bold and sat up to
try my skill
at paddling. But even a small change in the disposition
of the weight
will produce violent changes in the behaviour of a coracle.
And I had hardly moved before the boat, giving up at once
her gentle dancing movement, ran straight down a slope
so steep that it made me giddy, and struck her nose,
with a spout of spray, deep into the side of the next wave.
I was drenched and terrified, and fell instantly back into
position, whereupon the coracle seemed to find her head
and led me as softly as before among the billows. It was
she was not to be interfered with, and at that rate, since
in no way influence her course, what hope had I left of
I began to be horribly frightened, but I kept my head,
for all that.
First, moving with all care, I gradually baled out the
with my sea-cap; then, getting my eye once more above the
gunwale, I set myself to study how it was she managed to
so quietly through the rollers.
I found each wave, instead of the big, smooth glossy mountain
it looks from shore or from a vessel's deck, was for all
like any range of hills on dry land, full of peaks and
and valleys. The coracle, left to herself, turning from
side to side,
threaded, so to speak, her way through these lower parts
avoided the steep slopes and higher, toppling summits of
"Well, now," thought I to myself, "it is
plain I must lie where I am
and not disturb the balance; but it is plain also that
I can put
the paddle over the side and from time to time, in smooth
give her a shove or two towards land." No sooner thought
than done. There I lay on my elbows in the most trying
and every now and again gave a weak stroke or two to turn
her head to shore.
It was very tiring and slow work, yet I did visibly gain
and as we drew near the Cape of the Woods, though I saw
infallibly miss that point, I had still made some hundred
of easting. I was, indeed, close in. I could see the cool
tree-tops swaying together in the breeze, and I felt sure
make the next promontory without fail.
It was high time, for I now began to be tortured with thirst.
The glow of the sun from above, its thousandfold reflection
from the waves, the sea-water that fell and dried upon
caking my very lips with salt, combined to make my throat
and my brain ache. The sight of the trees so near at hand
had almost made me sick with longing, but the current had
carried me past the point, and as the next reach of sea
I beheld a sight that changed the nature of my thoughts.
Right in front of me, not half a mile away, I beheld
the HISPANIOLA under sail. I made sure, of course,
that I should be taken; but I was so distressed for want
that I scarce knew whether to be glad or sorry at the thought,
and long before I had come to a conclusion, surprise had
entire possession of my mind and I could do nothing but
The HISPANIOLA was under her main-sail and two jibs,
and the beautiful white canvas shone in the sun like snow
When I first sighted her, all her sails were drawing; she
a course about north-west, and I presumed the men on board
were going round the island on their way back to the anchorage.
Presently she began to fetch more and more to the westward,
so that I thought they had sighted me and were going about
in chase. At last, however, she fell right into the wind's
was taken dead aback, and stood there awhile helpless,
with her sails shivering.
"Clumsy fellows," said I; "they must still
be drunk as owls."
And I thought how Captain Smollett would have set them
Meanwhile the schooner gradually fell off and filled again
upon another tack, sailed swiftly for a minute or so,
and brought up once more dead in the wind's eye.
Again and again was this repeated. To and fro, up and down,
north, south, east, and west, the HISPANIOLA sailed
by swoops and dashes, and at each repetition ended
as she had begun, with idly flapping canvas. It became
plain to me
that nobody was steering. And if so, where were the men?
Either they were dead drunk or had deserted her, I thought,
and perhaps if I could get on board I might return the
to her captain.
The current was bearing coracle and schooner southward
at an equal rate. As for the latter's sailing, it was so
intermittent, and she hung each time so long in irons,
that she certainly gained nothing, if she did not even
If only I dared to sit up and paddle, I made sure that
overhaul her. The scheme had an air of adventure that inspired
and the thought of the water breaker beside the fore companion
doubled my growing courage.
Up I got, was welcomed almost instantly by another cloud
of spray, but this time stuck to my purpose and set myself,
with all my strength and caution, to paddle after the unsteered
HISPANIOLA. Once I shipped a sea so heavy that I had to
and bail, with my heart fluttering like a bird, but gradually
I got into the way of the thing and guided my coracle
among the waves, with only now and then a blow upon her
and a dash of foam in my face.
I was now gaining rapidly on the schooner; I could see
glisten on the tiller as it banged about, and still no
upon her decks. I could not choose but suppose she was
If not, the men were lying drunk below, where I might
batten them down, perhaps, and do what I chose with the
For some time she had been doing the worse thing possible
for me--standing still. She headed nearly due south, yawing,
of course, all the time. Each time she fell off, her sails
and these brought her in a moment right to the wind again.
I have said this was the worst thing possible for me, for
as she looked in this situation, with the canvas cracking
and the blocks trundling and banging on the deck, she still
continued to run away from me, not only with the speed
of the current, but by the whole amount of her leeway,
which was naturally great.
But now, at last, I had my chance. The breeze fell for
seconds, very low, and the current gradually turning her,
the HISPANIOLA revolved slowly round her centre and at
presented me her stern, with the cabin window still gaping
and the lamp over the table still burning on into the day.
The main-sail hung drooped like a banner. She was stock-still
but for the current.
For the last little while I had even lost, but now redoubling
my efforts, I began once more to overhaul the chase.
I was not a hundred yards from her when the wind came again
in a clap; she filled on the port tack and was off again,
stooping and skimming like a swallow.
My first impulse was one of despair, but my second was
towards joy. Round she came, till she was broadside on
round still till she had covered a half and then two thirds
and then three quarters of the distance that separated
I could see the waves boiling white under her forefoot.
Immensely tall she looked to me from my low station
in the coracle.
And then, of a sudden, I began to comprehend. I had scarce
to think--scarce time to act and save myself. I was on
of one swell when the schooner came stooping over the next.
The bowsprit was over my head. I sprang to my feet and
stamping the coracle under water. With one hand I caught
the jib-boom, while my foot was lodged between the stay
the brace; and as I still clung there panting, a dull blow
that the schooner had charged down upon and struck the
and that I was left without retreat on the HISPANIOLA.
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